Opinion

Having a social impact needn't be a drag on business performance

5 min read

03 June 2014

The recognition and understanding of creating genuine social impact is still limited. There is also often a misconception that a project or contract which promises to deliver social value will automatically lead to increased costs.

But delivering social value doesn’t have to increase costs; it’s a way of thinking about how services can be delivered and the decisions a business makes when it undertakes the work, rather than an increased range of activities and/or costs.

That can mean many different things from working with local suppliers and creating local employment opportunities, through to community based support and ensuring all companies involved are signed up to deliver minimum training and apprenticeship levels.

Ultimately, social value can provide measurable added value but it takes foresight and commitment, and will only truly be delivered if it forms one of the key success measures agreed at the beginning of a project.

Rising up the agenda

The growth in the number of social enterprises combined with impressive lobbying from those in the sector committed to the issue, has seen social value rise on the Government’s agenda in recent years. As a result, as part of March’s budget announcement, Chancellor George Osborne introduced a new piece of legislation which will see private financers given a 30% tax relief or other tax breaks, on all investments into social enterprises, such as community interest companies, community benefit societies or charities.

The new tax relief applies to investments made after 6th April and is an attractive opportunity for potential investors who want to see their money put to good use and make a difference through organisations which have strong values and are committed to creating a genuine, positive impact in their local communities.

Measuring impact

One of the challenges that social organisations have is that many say that they add value but few have actually developed and implemented processes which can evidence it. But now more than ever, social businesses have to be able to prove that they are making a real, measurable difference in order to continue to secure investment.

There is currently no universal method for measuring social impact so at Vivark, we have developed the following process to ensure we’re delivering on our promises and making a genuine difference within the communities we operate in.

Firstly, we set a range of social value objectives that are targeted to be derived from the delivery of a contract or service.  We then measure the outcomes achieved in two ways:

1. Via tangible outcomes: outline the outcomes specific to people and communities, for example, apprenticeships, employment opportunities for previously unemployed, training programmes to increase skills and likelihood of long term employment, the introduction of living wage, community work undertaken and the impact this has on the lives of the local community etc

2. Via a ‘Wellbeing Valuation’ tool. The tool allows us to set tangible targets such as those detailed above, and then to measure the actual results in the form of a ‘Social Impact Statement’ which converts the social value into a cash value in a way that can be compared to others.  

The system we use was developed by a third party organisation and draws data from statistical analyses of four large national UK datasets that contain information on wellbeing and life circumstances over a 20 year period

By successfully measuring our social impact, we have been able to focus on the right activities that have the greatest outcomes and prove that operating a social business can be done, and profitably.

Since October 2012, we have grown our business by 50% in turnover, created almost 100 new jobs and made significant increases in pre-tax profits. All of these profits are being re-invested back into the business to create further growth and fund social investment or allocated directly to support other social impact programmes.

Tony Cahill, is an executive director at Vivark Ltd, part of The First Ark Group.